Saturday, February 28, 2009

One Day

Mark Batterson shares a wonderful, powerful thought about the biblical phrase "one day."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Consistently Generate Great Lessons and Devotions – Week after Week

Great Bible teachers consistently produce great lessons and devotions, week after week.  

Sometimes we all struggle to keep going, and hit dry patches.  I believe our Lord uses these dry spells to draw us back to Him, to help us focus on Christ, and to keep us from pride and error.  

Here are the 10 basic practices which help me consistently generate great lessons and devotions, to edify the people God has put in my sphere of influence, and honor our Lord. 


1. Teach from what God is teaching you

It's critically important that you, as a teacher, remain well-grounded in Christ and well-connected to Him.  You need to have devotional time in God's Word which has nothing to do with the lessons you are preparing.  But out of those, you'll find many rich insights which you can use in your teaching ministry.

It's been said that we ask God to fill our cup, and then we minister, serve, and teach from the saucer (the overflow).  

You can separate Christians into two categories:  those growing, and those not.  If you have an active, ongoing spiritual life with the living God, then you're in growth mode.  Teach out of what you are learning from the Lord. 

2. Keep an idea list going

Capture ideas - however small or vague - when the thought hits you, "Uhm…that could be useful in teaching."  Or you get an idea for a topic or class.   These ideas are like slippery fish.   If you don't catch them now, they're gone, often irretrievably.  

The experience of every teacher I know who does this is the same: "I have more ideas about what to cover than I could teach in several years!" 

Then build the habit of reviewing notes like these periodically.  You'll be surprised at how God answered your prayer "What should I teach next?" or "How can make this a better lesson?" well before you asked for wisdom.  

3. Reflect on your life often

I cannot concur with Socrates' statement "The unexamined life is not worth living," but I think an examined life is a richer life, and one more likely to positively influence others in the Kingdom of God.  

Many great teachers journal.  They take notes or have conversations with others about how they see God working in their lives, and in the lives of people close to them.  They do the hard work of processing thoughts and emotions into words.  The fruit of this work is an increased sense of your real self - strengths and weaknesses, joys and fears, accomplishments and shortcomings.  

Great teaching is reinforced by personal authenticity as a pilgrim on the discipleship way, before God.  You can't fake this.  And your lesson content will be all the stronger and richer because you share from your authentic view.  God usually  causes teachers to learn lessons before He allows them to teach them to others!

4. Teach from the heart 

Many times we must fight the temptation to intellectualize the content of lessons and devotions.  I'm opposed to teaching only from emotional drivers, but emotions are God-given for a reason.  When you teach from the heart on a subject or passage that moves you, your students will be moved, too.  Emotions help sell facts.  

So ask yourself "What is God doing in my heart now?"  Use this in your teaching.  You can organize a short devotion based on this.  

5. Answer student questions

You can't go wrong addressing the questions that come up from the people you are teaching.  If you're teaching a series of lessons, take one as a "breather" and use it to answer questions that you've heard.  Or give fuller answers to questions that you partly answered earlier.  

It's also fun to organize a lesson along the structure of "Top 5 Things People Should Know About _____"  or "Three Misunderstandings About ____ You Should Avoid." 

6. Read a lot, across disciplines

Great teachers are great readers - first of the Word of God, and then everything else that is useful.  

Mark Batterson has a short blog post on the importance of reading, saying that in many ways, "We are what we read."

The average American adult reads 1 book a year.  If you read 1 book a month you are on the top 3% of American adults.  (That's a sad statistic, by the way!)

Don't limit your reading to books - there are wonderful bloggers, magazines, and websites (Wikipedia is a good jumping-off point for practically any topic you can imagine). 

I strongly encourage you to read widely, because you will find many illustrations and enrich your understanding of the world.  Intentionally tackle some reading outside your normal range, to stretch yourself.  This year, for example, I'm intentionally pushing myself to learn more about graphic arts and Chinese culture.  Reading in multiple disciplines effectively "cross-pollinates" your brain.  

One more thing: reading biographies is very powerful.  

7. Write, write, write

Writing is the discipline that forces us to clarify thinking.  Great teachers learn through writing.  

You can write in your journal.  You can run a blog.  You can write emails to your students or fellow teachers.  Write short devotions or helps for your church web site, newsletter, or bulletin.

This might sound like an odd thing to include in this list.  "Glenn, I'm dry and I don't know what to teach this week!"  Counter-intuitive advice: start writing.  Something.  Anything, actually.

Why?  Because when we start writing, new ideas come.  The process of writing seems to stimulate your mind to be open to new possibilities.  

8. Take "rhythm" breaks to stay charged

Everyone benefits with a change of pace occasionally.  If you're stuck on a lesson, try something completely different.  Change up the format, the translation you're using, or the room setting.  I'm increasingly under conviction that none of us hear the Word enough; so I'm going to be taking some class times in the future simply to read the Word and let people soak it in, listening quietly.  

Use old hymns.  Have the group share stories about how they saw God at work this week, or a meaningful passage from Scripture.  Let someone else be the teacher for a week.  (This is a great opportunity for you to mentor other teachers!)

9. Short lessons and devotions are fine!

One key idea in a 3 minute devotion can set hearts on fire for the Lord.   

The most common advice I give teachers is simply this: "Teach less, well."  We tend to cram too much into lessons.  One the written page the proper use of whitespace improves readability.  In a class, adept use of silence and shortness leaves room for great dialogue and life-transforming application of God's truth.  

Stop beating yourself up by continually adding more content to lessons.  Focus on delivering the BEST parts, and teaching that in an engaging way.  

10. Repurpose existing lessons

"It is as important to be reminded as it is to be informed."  -- Richard Halverson.  Not everything in your lessons or devotions needs to be 100% original every time.  It's fine to rework past lessons, pull out a section to create a short devotion, or adapt something created by another.  It's likely that not all the people you are teaching now heard that lesson from 4 years ago.  

Don't be afraid to go back to existing materials and rework them.  You can add new or different questions, a different illustration, or a different application from the same passage.


So that's the list: 10 basic habits and practices which will help you generate great lesson and devotion content every week!  

If you have comments or additional suggestions, let us know!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Recommended Free Leadership Resource

If you're a leader in your church, check out this blog post about a great leadership resource that you should get. It's free, it's excellent.

How to Nudge the World

"Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little..." — Tom Stoppard


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Prayer: Not Legalism, but Duty

John Piper gives us helpful instruction about the importance of prayer. This is from a sermon, but you could build a great lesson around this:

But the hard truth is that most Christians don’t pray very much. They pray at meals—unless they’re still stuck in the adolescent stage of calling good habits legalism. They whisper prayers before tough meetings. They say something brief as they crawl into bed. But very few set aside set times to pray alone—and fewer still think it is worth it to meet with others to pray. And we wonder why our faith is weak. And our hope is feeble. And our passion for Christ is small.

The Duty of Prayer
And meanwhile the devil is whispering all over this room: “The pastor is getting legalistic now. He’s starting to use guilt now. He’s getting out the law now.” To which I say, “To hell with the devil and all of his destructive lies. Be free!” Is it true that intentional, regular, disciplined, earnest, Christ-dependent, God-glorifying, joyful prayer is a duty? Do I go to pray with many of you on Tuesday at 6:30 a.m., and Wednesday at 5:45 p.m., and Friday at 6:30 a.m., and Saturday at 4:45 p.m., and Sunday at 8:15 a.m. out of duty? Is it a discipline?
You can call it that. It’s a duty the way it’s the duty of a scuba diver to put on his air tank before he goes underwater. It’s a duty the way pilots listen to air traffic controllers. It’s a duty the way soldiers in combat clean their rifles and load their guns. It’s a duty the way hungry people eat food. It’s a duty the way thirsty people drink water. It’s a duty the way a deaf man puts in his hearing aid. It’s a duty the way a diabetic takes his insulin. It’s a duty the way Pooh Bear looks for honey. It’s a duty the way pirates look for gold.


Dealing with Doubt

I know many of you are working with students and adults who are struggling with doubts and unbelief. This online ebook (complete, and free), "Dealing with Doubt" might be a good resource for you.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hollow and Deceptive Philosophies

Colossians 2:8 gives us a strong command ("See to it") to guard ourselves against worldviews and thinking patterns not grounded in Jesus Christ:

"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ."

There is a lot of good advice and counsel available in this world. There are also many false teachers who are skilled at persuasive rhetoric.

Here is our guide, then: If the instruction does not have Christ at the center, then it as best hollow, and may well be deceptive.

Looking at financial advice for what to do with your 401K, or counsel for guiding your teenager through difficult years, or instruction about pursuing additional education? Prayerfully ask if Christ is at the center. If not, it may be still be useful, but it is hollow.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fighting the Temptation to Be Lazy

I love Perry Noble's counsel here for leaders (applies to teachers, too!):

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, A WORKMAN…”
One of the biggest temptations for a leader is to become lazy and the begin to expect God to do what HE has clearly commanded the leader to do.
It is my responsibility as a leader to make sure I am prepared to preach God’s Word every Sunday.
It is my responsibility as a leader to make sure that I am growing in my faith and in my leadership abilities.
It is my responsibility as a leader to work hard, to put time, effort and energy into the things God has called me to lead.

One of the most dangerous things a leader can do is put their leadership on cruise control. God didn’t call us to cruise…He called us to create…and that ONLY comes through us being willing to roll up our sleeves and WORK HARD.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Reverse It -- A Bible Study Approach

Here's a suggestion for studying a passage that you've become familiar with:

Review it verse by verse, but in reverse order.

This is particularly helpful with narrative passages, but can be used with any text.

I know this sounds crazy, but your mind will pick up patterns and relationships and insights that you won't see in "forward" order.

This one is easy to teach your students, even elementary age. Try reading the story of David and Goliath this way, for example.

Friday, February 20, 2009

May I Answer Your Question?

May I answer your question(s) about Bible teaching?

I routinely answer 50-75 questions every month, from Bible teachers like you, almost all by email.

I'd like to create video responses as a change of format.

So here's where I'd like your help. Simply comment below with your question.

Or maybe you just want to raise a concern about the current situation you're in now, or highlight what challenge you need help with.

I'll select a bunch of them, start making short video responses and post them for everyone.

Chances are good that the answers to your question will help many of your fellow teachers.

I need your question or comment by Sunday, March 1st.

Go ahead - let me know what's on your mind.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

God Is Not Procrastinating

Have you ever considered how long God waits between the big milestone points of history? Adam and Eve sin in the Garden of Eden. Four thousand years later God sends His son Jesus. The Church has now been waiting another two thousand years for the second coming of King Jesus, looking forward to the new heaven and new earth.

In the human perspective, long delays usually mean something is hard to accomplish. And we tend to procrastinate rather than tackle hard things, don’t we?

God is not procrastinating.

We learn from the Bible that God’s timing is perfect (though we may not understand it). For example, God the Father sends His son Jesus in the “fullness of time” (see Galatians 4:4) – when the time is right.

Fixing what is wrong with the world is not going to be difficult for God. To illustrate this, read what will happen to Satan:

“And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him…” (Revelation 20:1-3)

Note the ordinariness of this account. It’s one angel who does this – not an army, not a super-special hero angel, not even a named angel. (Let’s call him “Bob.”) There is no spectacular fight, no massive resistance, and no doubt that one angel is adequate to do the job. There is no evidence that this unnamed angel gets a medal of commendation for service “above and beyond the call of duty.”

Take encouragement from this, and enlarge your confidence that our God is able and will set everything right – in the fullness of time. This hope helps us endure all things as ministers of reconciliation and grace to people in darkness.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Two Biggest Drivers of Human Behavior

To ponder:

"The two biggest drivers of human behavior are the desire for
significance and contribution." -- Frank Kern

Listening to The Word

Eugene Peterson advocates lectio divina, a process of listening to God's Word as poetry, allowing it to seep into our souls.

He rightly points out that we can slip into Bible study as an autopsy on a dead thing, dissecting and probing to find out how the mechanics work.

I loved this section:

"In the last class I taught at Regent, a young woman came up to me and was very irritated.

"Dr. Peterson," she said, "three times during the lecture you did not say anything for twenty seconds. I know because I timed you. I'm from Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, teachers go: Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! I want my money's worth."

We're going to have people like that, people who want very polished and efficient teaching. But when I see people in my congregation taking notes during the sermon, I stop and say, "Put your pencils away. I want you to listen. Listen to the Word of God. It's not something for you to figure out; it's something for you to respond to."

The whole interview is good. What can you do today to listen to the living Word, and help others do so also? It might mean less polish, more depth, more effectiveness.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Maximize These Two Parts of Your Lesson

Peter Mead reminds us that we need to maximize the impact of the introduction and close. These are the two key times that count in a presentation.

I call them hooks and launches. You want to hook a nerve up front, and you want to launch people out of the class time or small group time to go and serve the Lord.
Check out the free report I created a while back on creating powerful hooks.

At Noon Today...

My pastor asked a great question -- this would be excellent for a small group or Sunday School class to work on:

"If all your prayers were answered at noon today, what would change in the world?"

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Change! Change? Change!?

I loved this 5:32 video, a "mockumentary" of a scandal that ensues when a Sunday School class teacher trys to bring in some changes:

The same kind of pressures to protect the status quo work on small groups, youth ministry, worship music and schedule changes, etc. Worth watching for the humor -- because it opens up the ribs enough that the truth will slip in!

HT: The Sunday School Revolutionary

Who Was St. Valentine?

Happy Valentine's Day to all! Make it special for someone!

Here's a useful article about the [sometimes confusing] history of St. Valentine and how we arrived at this traditions of this holiday.

Friday, February 13, 2009

How Far Did Jonah Walk in Whale-Vomit Clothes?

A good friend dropped me a note encouraging me to try Here's his hilarious excerpt:

"Need to know where Jesus went when He was in Gadara or how far Jonah had to walk in whale-vomit clothes when he finally went to Ninevah? This tool is better than any Bible Atlas and sure beats the heck out of the maps in the back of your Bible! And no wonder; it actually harnesses the power of Google Maps! Try it out here: "

It is indeed a fun and useful tool for teachers!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

About "The Shack"

I'm asked about once a week for my thoughts on the controversial book, "The Shack."

I haven't read it. It's not in my reading pile. I might read it someday, but right now I'm compelled to read lots of other books and articles.

You can find pro and con reviews all over the Internet. This may be the most helpful review I've seen, so I 'm going to steer you there. I have high regard for the folks at Stand to Reason.

There is No Substitute For This

I can coach you on your teaching skills and tactics. These things are learnable. You can improve with practice and feedback. You can develop stronger openings (hooks), better questions, more powerful illustrations, rhythm, handouts and breakout activities, life application, and between class follow-up. You can learn new approaches to studying the Word yourself, and leverage proven ways to help others study the Word better for themselves.

I believe you should be working on developing your skills and tactics. Great Bible teaching is a craft, and we are always working on our craft.

But there is no substitute for an authentic, passionate, deep relationship with Jesus Christ.

I firmly believe that we don't have enough great Bible teachers today. And so I am working with all His energy to help change this.

Our first and primary issue with the weakness of biblical teaching is because our teachers do not have the underlying connection with the Lord, a life of obedience to His Word, and a heart inflamed with the Spirit.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bible in 90 Days -- challenge

I'm sold on the idea of reading large amounts of Scripture, regularly. I have coached hundreds of people now on reading the Bible in 40 days, or the NT in a month. It takes some dedication, but the results are so incredible!

I just saw an ad for this group, which has materials to help a person -- or better yet your entire church! -- to read through the whole Bible in 90 days.

May our Lord bless this ministry! I haven't tried their materials, but I love the concept and endorse any effort to help people systematically read the Word.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Making A Way Forward for Victory

Another insight from reading "The Victors," by Stephen Ambrose.

The Royal Winnipegs (a Canadian group, all volunteers) landed at Sword Beach on D-Day. The Germans had presighted machine gun firing lines and were pouring murderous fire on a platoon as they approached a roll of barbed wire and a strip of land mines. The strategy to get through the wire was to use a bangalore torpedo to blow a gap through the wire, and then they could run forward to attack the machine gun positions. The Royal Winnipegs had already lost many men getting to the wire; it was a death zone. The only hope of survival was to move forward off that beach.

The torpedo failed to explode. Machine gun fire continued to pour on their position. There were no other torpedos available.

One of the soldiers [Ambrose does not list his name] threw himself facedown on the wire so that others could cross on his back to safety.

There's a great illustration here for us. Jesus fell upon the cross to make a way for us, his physical body reconciling us to God. (See Colossians 1:21-22)

We are ambassadors for Christ, living for His greater purposes, putting others ahead of our own interests, extending ourselves and suffering that others might live. What barbed wire do we need to fall on so others have an escape, our very bodies creating a safe path? What obstacles and difficulties must we flatten so others can move forward out of certain death?

Eisenhower on Leadership

Another insight from reading "The Victors," by Stephen Ambrose.

In the weeks leading up to D-Day, Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote this to his son at West Point: "The one quality that can be developed by studious reflection and practice is the leadership of men."

Later, in the introduction to his memoirs, Eisenhower wrote: "Optimism and pessimism are infectious and they spread more rapidly from the head downward than in any other direction. The habit [of a cheerful and hopeful attitude] tends to minimize potentialities within the individual himself to become demoralized. It has the most extraordinary effect upon all with whom he comes into contact. With this clear realization, I firmly determined that my mannerisms and speech in public would always reflect the cheerful certainty of victory -- that any pessimism and discouragement I might ever feel would be reserved for my pillow. I adopted a policy of circulating through the whole force to the full limit imposed by physical considerations. I did my best to meet everyone from general to private with a smile, a pat on the back and a definite interest in his problems."

These are key lessons for leadership in our families, churches, neighborhoods, and businesses. They must be learned and put into practice! These are exactly the times which call for a cheerful and hopeful attitude -- and with our security resting in Christ Almighty, we should be cheerful and hopeful.

Runners Are Targets

I'm rereading a terrific book about D-Day and the redemption of France from Nazi occupation, titled "The Victors," by Stephen Ambrose. He interviewed hundreds of survivors of these battles and shares their stories and perspectives. It's amazing and humbling to read what these young men accomplished.

Because radio communications were sometimes poor, or were not secure, men were assigned to carry messages to forward positions, or between forward positions. This became the most hazardous job in the infantry: every enemy soldier spotting a runner would immediately begin shooting at them. Disrupting communication was key. Runners were automatic targets and bullet magnets. (Allied forces acted the same towards German runners.)

As we carry the Gospel message in battle zones -- and make no mistake, you are in one now -- you will be a target. You're going to be shot at. Don't be surprised by this! Be confident that our Great Commander King Jesus protects us and does not abandon us.

I'll post more from this book soon.

God Will Not Be Manipulated By Magic

My heart leaped when I read Peter Gentry's insight about the plan of Solomon's Temple -- not unique in architecture from other ancient temples, but in content:

"If we consider the plan of the Tabernacle or the plan of Solomon’s Temple, there is nothing unusual or unique. Its overall plan was just like any other temple in the ancient Near East. They all had an outer courtyard, an altar of sacrifice, and a central building divided into a “Holy Place” and a “Holy of Holies.” What made the faith of Israel different from the faith of the pagan religions surrounding her? If one were to enter a pagan temple, passing through the courtyard, and the Holy Place into the Holy of Holies, what would one find there? An image representing one of the forces of nature. But that is not what one finds at the center of Israel’s worship. What was in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle? First of all, there was no image or statue there because God is spirit and cannot be properly represented by man-made images. All there is in the Holy of Holies is just a little box. And what is in that box? The Ten Commandments. Thus, what God is saying to the Israelites is that he cannot be manipulated by magic. If they want the good life, they must conform their lifestyle to his revealed standards of right and wrong. Ethics guarantees the good life, not manipulation of the powers that be by magic."

Excellent! This would make a great short devotional, or the foundation for a longer lesson.

HT: Between Two Worlds

Friday, February 06, 2009

Discussion vs. Dialogue

Steve Roesler gives a useful comparison of discussion vs. dialogue and the three conditions required for dialogue:

1. Don't be judgmental about others' viewpoints
2. Regard one another as colleagues (I would suggest, regard one another as brothers and sisters)
3. Facilitate to hold the context

Good insights for teachers and study group leaders!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Bible is Clear

I'm amazed at how many people I've heard say, "Oh, the Bible is hard to understand and confusing."

Yes, the Bible has depth will will never exhaust. Yes, there is breadth. Yes, there are aspects of God's power, majesty, might, and ways that we barely comprehend. Yes, God's crummy enemy seeks to confuse people and blind their eyes to the truth of the Gospel message.

But the key messages of the Bible are plain, even to not-yet believers. As Mark Twain said, "It's not the things that I don't understand about the Bible that bother me."

So as a teacher you need to build confidence in the Word -- for yourself and especially for your students. Read this short blog post by Peter Mead to reinforce this in your heart and mind.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Brain Rules: Recommended book

Many of you know that I'm a student of how people learn. This was part of the basis for Teach the Jesus Way, an extensive set of coaching I developed for advanced teachers to master the use of questions, story, and dialogue in teaching -- as Jesus used them.

I also recommend this book: Brain Rules. It's written from a completely secular perspective, but has some fascinating information which will help you be a better teacher.

The basic 12 rules are:

Exercise boosts brain power
The human brain evolved, too
Every brain is wired differently
We don't pay attention to boring things
Repeat to remember
Remember to repeat
Sleep well, think well
Stressed brains don't learn the same way
Stimulate more of the senses
Vision trumps all other senses
Male and female brains are different
We are powerful and natural explorers

I think you can see why this is helpful information for Bible teachers!

Not interested in adding another book to your growing reading pile? Then go to the author's web site and watch the short videos explaining these concepts.

Even A Dim Bulb Lights Up the Darkness

“The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (John 1:9)
“You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14)

Believers in Jesus Christ are (not will be, or could be, but are) the light of the world, because Jesus is the true light. The world is full of spiritual darkness. We should not be surprised at this, for the Bible tells us it has been and will be so (though not forever). We should not despair at this fact, either, but be strengthened with all God’s power (Colossians 1:29) and living intentionally to honor the Lord as we love others.

The human eye is exquisitely sensitive to light. If you were in a completely dark space, you could see a lit match 90 miles away.

Think about the night light in your hallway or child’s bedroom. A dinky 2 watt bulb is more than ample to keep you from stumbling even when half-asleep. Even a dim bulb lights up the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it!

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (John 12:46)

Our Lord Jesus, the persistent rescuer reaching out to save all mankind, uses each of us to help light up dark places and let people see Him in us.

Do not be concerned if you feel your “wattage” is too small for the scope of the darkness. Do not underestimate what God can do to boost your wattage and the transforming light of Christ in you. Let us be deeply thankful that God has given us the light of Christ, and shine more brightly that everyone around us may see Jesus, and worship Him.